Mirado Rakotoharimalala

2022 Fellowship Alumnus, Madagascar

Beyond the Goalposts: Empowering Malagasy Youth Through Football

Soccer has always been a unifying element. The Orange Pro League, with its emphasis on promoting unity through competition, is an example of how soccer can be a catalyst for positive social change in Madagascar.”

Mirado Rakotoharimalala, 2022 Fellowship Alumnus, Madagascar
A group of people in business attire stand around a soccer trophy
Mirado Rakotoharimalala (center, glasses) with the team that started OPL in 2021.

In Madagascar, many young people struggle with limited access to essential resources such as quality education, skills training, and job opportunities to meet basic needs.  Mirado Rakotoharimalala, a 2022 Fellowship Alumnus, is on a transformative journey to empower Malagasy youth through soccer. Mirado’s story is one of passion, determination, and a deep commitment to using sport as an agent of positive change. His efforts have not only changed the soccer landscape in Madagascar, but have brought hope and empowerment to countless youth with limited access to resources to help secure their futures.

Building Madagascar’s Football Industry Infrastructure

Since 2019, Rakotoharimalala has been instrumental in the creation and expansion of Madagascar’s national soccer league, known as the Orange Pro League (OPL). As co-founder of the OPL, he has created a soccer ecosystem that engages media, businesses, local authorities, clubs, coaches, referees, and players. Through OPL, Mirado aimed to not only provide a platform for young talent to showcase their skills, but also to create economic opportunities for aspiring players.

A man speaks at a podium with a presentation on a screen behind him
Mirado Rakotoharimalala speaks at the General Assembly of CFEM (OPL) in 2020.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the OPL’s impact is its transformative effect on young players. By promoting professional football through the OPL, Mirado and his team have given young players a chance to shine and excel. Additionally, the OPL presence in Madagascar has led to a shift in the economics of the sport. Prior to the existence of the league, only professional football players in the national league earned salaries. However, since the inception of OPL many young players are currently earning salaries and are now seeing viable careers within the football industry.

OPL’s impact extends beyond the field, fostering newfound confidence and empowerment in young players. By representing their communities on the national stage, these players become a source of pride and inspiration, changing the perceptions of young people in Madagascar. The victory of Madagascar’s national football team, “Berea,” over Nigeria (2-0) at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) marked their first international success and sparked a wave of national pride among the Malagasy people that transcended tribe, race, and socioeconomic status. This triumph reignited a passion for soccer and offered a hopeful future previously unseen by the majority of the Malagasy people.

Creating a More Inclusive League

Group of people pose for a photo holding certificates
April 2023 class of TFIF graduates

While the OPL has made significant strides in growing youth football, especially among young men, the landscape for women’s football remains unequal.

In April 2023, Mirado launched The Future is Feminine (TFIF) project, which focuses on training young girls and women in sports management, governance, and leadership. TFIF aims to empower young women by equipping them with the skills and knowledge to succeed in a traditionally male-dominated industry, address gaps in girls’ football education, and envision a more inclusive future for women in Madagascar’s football.

Recognizing the power of soccer to unite diverse communities and foster unity among Madagascar’s youth, Mirado says, “Soccer has always been a unifying element. The Orange Pro League, with its emphasis on promoting unity through competition, is an example of how soccer can be a catalyst for positive social change in Madagascar.”

Scoring Impact in Madagascar

A man in a yellow shirt and sunglasses addresses a group looking at him on the track of a stadium
Mirado Rakotoharimalala addresses a group at a stadium visit during the TFIF.

Through his efforts, Mirado has elevated Madagascar’s soccer scene and changed the lives of countless young people. In early 2023, he participated in the Alumni Professional Development Experience (PDE) and a Reciprocal Exchange (RE) as part of the Fellowship’s Alumni programming. Through the PDE, Mirado was paired with the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and learned about the “Meaningful Youth Engagement Framework,” which analyzes the roles and relationships between different stakeholders, including youth. This experience provided him with valuable tools to apply to his work with youth in Madagascar.

Mirado’s commitment to gender equality, community unity, and youth empowerment led to his election as President of the YALI Madagascar Chapter in the summer of 2023. This chapter brings together Alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship and YALI Regional Leadership Centers, furthering his impact on the community.

Mirado’s legacy serves as a reminder that pursuing one’s dreams can set off a chain reaction of positive change, even in challenging environments: “When you work in an industry that interests you, everything seems easy and exciting. You enjoy every minute of it.”

Written by Jennifer Manzanillo.

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